Caprica (2010)

Review

In the ’70s, it was seen as a middling Star Wars rip-off, its story of hmans fleeing a deadly robot race nothing more than an excuse for cheap, made-for-TV effects. Now, three decades later, a revamped Battlestar Galactica has been hailed as one of the small screen’s significant accomplishments. With the five-year run of the original series now over and done with, creative team Ronald D. Moore and David Eick are prepping a new franchise that will follow the technology that gave birth to the android threat and the oddly contemporary battle between faiths and cultural diversity that surrounds the science. And from the 90-minute pilot movie for Caprica, it looks like the pair has parlayed their talents into another winner.

When their families are torn apart by a terrorist act, robotics tycoon Daniel Graystone (Eric Stoltz) and Tauron lawyer Joseph Adama (Esai Morales) come together to heal their obvious open wounds. And when the man behind the burgeoning Cylon technology learns that his late genius daughter Zoe (Alessandra Toressani) had devised a way of creating a ‘copy’ of herself via a personality database, he vows to find a means of downloading that information into something more ‘physical.’ Because of his underworld ties with the Tauron mob, Graystone asks Adama for a favor. In exchange for a little corporate espionage, he will promise to bring his child back via the program. At first, Adama acquiesces — not so much for himself as for his young son William (Sina Najafi). But as he confronts his criminal brother Sam (Sasha Roiz) over Graystone’s request, he realizes that man is not meant to play God.

Imagine seeing David Lynch’s pilot episode of Twin Peaks — its playful psycho suburban surrealism, its brilliant characterization and angst-filled ambiance, its open ended mysteries measured out in long, elaborate story arcs. Now imagine having to wait a whole year before the narrative begins its weekly amble toward probable geek grandness. That’s the problem facing fans of Galactica, and this new bid for serious speculative superiority. With the Sci-Fi Channel holding off on bringing Caprica to its schedule until sometime in 2010, this sort-of standalone effort will have to do — and for many, it will make the delay seem all the more miserable. Though it takes a while to get going and offers one too many quasi-theological smackdowns, this is some damn fine dramatic television.

Moore and Eick clearly believe in the old school concept of future shock being based in ideas, not overblown space battles. The minor action scenes here center mostly on a RoboCop-like Cylon that’s being ‘programmed’ to function for the planet’s military. As usual, this becomes the subject of some minor debate. In addition, much of the intelligent design centers on a rift between races, and the age-old battle of polytheists vs. far more ‘radical’ monotheists. There are questions of morality, issues of right, wrong, hedonism, and fate bandied about in a script that is light of fluff and heavy on the heady stuff. Luckily, director Jeffrey Reiner sets these conflicts within a recognizable alternative universe, the various found locations accented with CG to turn the familiar a tad more ‘alien.’

With Stoltz and Morales as the linchpins for both sides of the discussion, and the use of religious fundamentalism and terrorism as a way of bringing current audiences into this parallel world, Caprica creates the kind of alternative reality you can get lost in, a recognizable authenticity where the problems of today play out among the updated ideals of tomorrow. Too bad we have to wait so long to see this story continued. Caprica is the kind of entertainment effort that inspires a need for instant gratification.

The DVD includes a commentary track, deleted scenes, and video blog entries.